Musée Yves Saint Laurent


© Dan Glasser

Fifteen years since the last Yves Saint Laurent runway show at Centre Pompidou in Paris, Musée Yves Saint Laurent opened its doors in Marrakech, Morocco, providing a sculptural showcase for the collections of the Fondation Pierre Bergé–Yves Saint Laurent.

Af Benjamin Wells

The French architectural firm Studio KO, founded by architects Karl Fournier and Olivier Marty, has drawn inspiration from these collections as well as from local building techniques in order to craft a contextual yet decidedly contemporary homage to one of the 20th century’s most significant designers.

The Musée Yves Saint Laurent is the latest in a growing collection of cultural organizations dedicated to showcasing the convergence of the worlds of art, architecture, and fashion (think Fondazione Prada by OMA and Fondation Louis Vuitton by Frank Gehry) – examples of an architectural typology that demonstrates the cultural prowess, and indeed vast wealth, of the industry of high fashion. Despite the long and influential reign of haute couture, these reflective and archival foundations also mark the epoch’s steady decline, with Yves Saint Laurent representing the last of the grand couturiers who once dominated the fashion world.

Born in Algeria in 1936, Saint Laurent later moved to Paris where he established himself as one of the city’s most influential designers, first under Christian Dior and then in his own right. With the opening of the SAINT LAURENT rive gauche boutique in 1966 — the first ready-to-wear boutique to bear a couturier’s name — Saint Laurent laid the foundations for the contemporary fashion industry. After first visiting Morocco in the same year, he continued to travel to Marrakesh for a fortnight every December and June to design his haute couture collections, drawing inspiration from the city’s colors, textures, and forms.

Musée Yves Saint Laurent Marrakech combines two worlds that we are very familiar with and that are dear to our hearts: fashion and Morocco. Since the founding of our architectural firm, we have worked in this country that so inspired Yves Saint Laurent.
— Studio KO

Studio KO, with offices in both Marrakesh and Paris, sought to reflect this realm of inspiration in the design of the museum, using local materials and building techniques to sculpt and articulate the museum’s form. The building’s walls curve neatly into the surrounding ground, forming a terrazzo base aggregated from local stones and marble. Elemental volumes of locally fired terracotta brickwork define the profile of the building, which is capped with golden edging. The central courtyard — a cube from which a pure circular void has been carved — is reminiscent of the courtyards around which many Moroccan homes are arranged, yet here it is focused on a stone tablet marked with the iconic YSL logo.

Whilst this composition of materials is conceived as a sensitive and considered abstraction of a local context, its form is also influenced by sketches found in the couturier’s archives – smooth curves are contrasted with sharp angles, loose seams meeting with precise details. The subtle imbrication of the brickwork is intended to evoke fine lace, with delicate patterns shifting across the building’s facade, whilst the interior becomes smooth and velvety in contrast. Meticulous detailing is a testament to the long history of skillful Berber craftsmen, whilst mirroring Yves Saint Laurent’s enduring commitment to detail and quality.

The museum’s interiority is a product of both the intense heat of Marrakesh and the collection’s need for preservation and protection. Yves Saint Laurent was the only fashion designer of his generation to systematically archive his work, accumulating a vast collection of design sketches, atelier worksheets, collection boards, and prototype garments. A 400-square-meter permanent exhibition space designed by the scenographer Christophe Martin is devoted to showcasing this wealth of artifacts, organized around themes central to Saint Lauren’s work: Masculine-Feminine; Black, Africa, and Morocco; Imaginary Voyages; Gardens; and Art. Key pieces include the pea coat, the Mondrian dress, “le smoking”, and the safari jacket. The museum also includes a hall for temporary exhibitions, a research library with over 5,000 volumes, a 140-seat auditorium, a bookshop, and a terrace café.

The resulting building is the first dedicated fashion museum in Africa — a sculptural assemblage of elemental forms, each resembling a specific function yet united through gradients of material and color. Studio KO has crafted a building that rises to meet the weight of expectation surrounding the legacy of Yves Saint Laurent, returning a wealth of creativity to the country that so inspired it.